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This bright and bold pattern featuring birds, butterflies, and blossoms is on the fabric covering the recently reupholstered chaise lounge in Doris Duke’s bedroom.
As part of the conservation process for the chaise, the Griswold Textile Mill reproduced the pattern from the fabric that had naturally deteriorated. The Griswold Textile Mill in Westerly, RI. was established in 1937 and is one of the only fully operational, hand printed fabric mills in the United States. The hand printed fabric now has UV protection to help with the longevity of the upholstery. Doris Duke chose the pattern—along with others—from the Thai Silk Co. sometime after 1983.
Established in 1951, the Thai Silk Co. produced fabrics made with Thai silk by skilled Thai weavers. The brand became known internationally, especially after Queen Sirikit became a patron and wore Thai silk during her tour of 15 Western nations in 1960.
You can see this striking chaise the next time you visit Rough Point Museum—and you can learn more about Thai silk in our upcoming special exhibition, Inspired by Asia: Highlights from the Duke Family Collection.
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Doris Duke was a stranger to me.
I say, “was,” because after you sort through someone’s clothing (including underwear), you get to know them fairly well.
The main objective of my internship at Rough Point over the summer and fall was to accession (or catalogue) a recent collection of her clothes that were shipped from her former Shangri-La property in Hawaii to the museum staff at NRF.
Some things I learned about Doris while doing this were that she loved belts, enjoyed a comfy caftan, and had a penchant for bright colors and modern fashions. A portrait of her, printed to a life-size scale, watched over me diligently in my temporary office as I browsed her clothing collection, which was busting out of the boxes from Hawai’i. The vast swath of styles stretched over decades from the 1930s to the 1980s, and, of course, I had some personal favorites along the way.
I enjoyed seeing the bright prints and short skirts of the 1960s and 1970s, and cooed over the delicate beadwork on bias-cut gowns. However, there was, and still is, an academic barrier that kept me from loving them. As a graduate student who is versed in fashion history, each of these garments turned into a mini-study. These things, to me, were relics to be treated with the utmost delicacy and care. A majority of the clothing I referred to as objects, divided from me by time and space. These objects were cool, but they were not applicable to my life.
What was applicable, and the clothes that I loved, were tourist t-shirts from the mid-to-late 80s. I never grew up wearing crinolines or mod suits, nor did I ever see anyone wearing any in my day-to-day life. But having been born in the late 90s, I did recognize t-shirts.
Doris had t-shirts from trips she took to Hawai’i, Montana, and more– little “touristy” things that might even be considered cheap looking to some people. These shirts made Doris feel real to me, and not just some larger than life figure that watched me from a poster. These are things that she would have acquired late in her life, and very much reminded me of my own grandmothers. It was a very bittersweet moment, looking over these casual clothes and being reminded that Doris was once my grandmothers’ age. The experience left me feeling melancholy, but with a new affinity for an aging woman who had a life well-lived, and probably grew to enjoy the comfort of a t-shirt.
I once again think of my own grandmothers and the stories they tell about their lives. The decades scarcely understood by myself, having never lived them, but still sharing an intimate connection through clothing. They love a good t-shirt, I love a good t-shirt, and so did Doris.
By Paige Bailey
Paige Bailey was the curatorial graduate intern for 2021 summer and fall. Paige is in her second year of the Master of Science degree in Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design at the University of Rhode Island.
When someone asks me what some of the more interesting things in Doris Duke’s fashion collection are my usual answer is how many lesser-known designers are in it. This is a bit misleading because Doris Duke did have a fair amount of high-end, couture, and custom fashions in her Rough Point closets from big name designers that you would think of like Christian Dior and Balenciaga. I think the diverse range of designers in her wardrobe speak to Doris’s independence and her interest in supporting up and coming artists, both in the fashion world and as she did through her philanthropy within the music and dance world.
For a 1981 Met Gala (before Anna Wintour made it THE fashion event of the year), Duke chose to wear a relatively unknown designer, Dimitri Kritsas (born late 1930s), a fashion designer from Greece with only a small New York boutique. We don’t know how Doris Duke came upon the designer, but she made a big decision to wear his gown that evening and chose to be photographed wearing it.
Tina Leser (1910-1986), an American designer who is becoming more recognized in scholarly fashion history circles in the last decade or so, was clearly one of Doris Duke’s favorites. There are over a dozen items from Leser in the collection that span the range of her career and Doris’s life. It is possible the two women knew each other as they both spent considerable time in Honolulu prior to World War II; Leser and Duke likely would have been a part of the same social circles. There is still more research to be conducted on the extent of their relationship, including how long Doris was a client of the designer (much of Leser’s company archives are housed at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles). Leser’s design aesthetic fits well into Doris’s jet set lifestyle, interest in Eastern aesthetics, and the casual elegance of caftans, robes, and sundresses.
Some of the lesser-known designers in the Doris Duke fashion collection are items purchased on her world travels. Many of these items represent traditional dress of countries she visited, especially in Southeast Asia where Doris Duke spent considerable time in the 1960s and 1970s to build a collection of Southeast Asian art. Star of Siam (founded 1955 by Americans Vera & Lewis Cykman) was a Bangkok, Thailand-based silk company that specialized in custom tailored clothing in the Thai style. There are close to twenty pieces of fashion from this company, as well as many yards of Thai silk used in upholstery around Doris Duke’s homes, including the curtains in Doris’s bedroom at Rough Point.
Taj of India (founded 1950) is perhaps one of the most fascinating lesser-known designers in Doris Duke’s closet—a maker of a pair of shoes so beloved by Doris, she owned over 20 pairs of the pointy-toe flats in almost every color available! Taj Tajerie, a female designer from India, created the brand. Doris purchased them from small boutiques and well-known department stores both in Hawaii and in New York like M. M. Merry, Ltd. and Nordstrom. A fun fact about this brand- the designer created all the shoes for the show I Dream of Jeannie!
There’s an old adage that you can learn a lot about people of the past through looking at their clothes. If you look at the many items of Doris Duke’s clothing collection, you would learn that her clothing is almost as eccentric as the woman herself – and these pieces hold many memories and stories we are still learning about today.
By Kristen Costa, Senior Curator at Newport Restoration Foundation
As we get ready to welcome visitors to a new season at Rough Point, we looked back to how former residents used to prepare for Doris Duke’s arrival at Rough Point for the season.
We spoke with Linda Knierim, who remembers arriving at Rough Point on a February evening as a young girl. This year marks the 50th anniversary of when she first came to Rough Point to live with her parents, who were the new caretakers of the estate, and her younger brother.
Listen as Linda shares her story.
LK: And then we came here and it just seemed like such a long drive to come up. And then that ferry – I didn’t know there was a ferry that we had to take either.
While Linda was excited about living in a grand summer cottage on Newport’s famous Bellevue Avenue, she did not expect it to be so, well, haunting.
LK: We must have got here and it was maybe five, six o’clock at nighttime, so it was dark. So all I knew [was] we were coming to a summer cottage. I had no idea what the summer cottage was like, and we were greeted by a painter [at the] back door and came in… He opened up the Dining Room door, and everything was covered in white. It was like different size ghosts greeting us. And I was like, “Oh my gosh,” because I had it in my head that we were going to see real thick carpeting [and] all this beautiful furniture, not ghosts. And then we saw each room and everything. It wasn’t until the next day when my brother and I went outside that you saw how big the house really was. Then we thought, “Hmm. I think we’re gonna like it.”
Linda also recounts what it was like to prepare for Doris’s arrival each year.
LK: Well, I think my mom was busy, I guess probably like in March, getting the house ready, taking some of the cloths off and putting things away, folding them up. But then my dad was busy outside getting the gardens ready and then my brother and I had kind of like control of the house, like on this side [the public spaces in the house beyond the servant spaces] and then, then everything was so different in June when Miss Duke came.
Today, we still continue the tradition of covering furnishings and putting away decorative objects during the winter months.
And Linda’s first impressions of Doris Duke did not meet her expectations of a grand, stylish, larger-than-life woman.
LK: I know she came up in May. It was because Duke Farms called and said the lady of the house will be coming, and just to keep the front gate open. And they didn’t know what time she was coming, so my brother and I went to friends’ houses. I couldn’t wait to get home to find out what kind of car she came in, how she was dressed. My mom said she just came in an old car, and she didn’t have that fur coat on or those gold jewels or anything. She just had on jeans and a t-shirt.
Linda does have some lasting impressions from her time at Rough Point.
LK: The crash of the water against the rocks and the smells of geraniums. My father had those real tall geraniums in the Solarium. They were in big pots and they were almost as tall as I am. So the smells of geraniums always bring [it] up… [Also] when I see those little oyster crackers because [the kitchen] stove had big long shelves always filled with them.
While we no longer have oyster crackers in the Kitchen, you can still experience the sound of the waves breaking dramatically on the rocks and enjoy the scent of the geraniums in the Solarium.
We hope you will visit us this upcoming season and discover (or re-discover) Rough Point for yourself.
According to former staff, when Doris Duke particularly enjoyed a recipe she would have it faxed to her other homes so that the cooks in each house could learn how to make the dish.
Here are some recipes from Doris Duke’s personal recipe collection. These particular recipes were the work of three Rough Point cooks: Hattie, Annie, and Hulda Goudie.
Try one (or two) and let us know what you think! Click the images below to get a closer look.
And we’d love to see your special holiday recipes! Share with us @nptrestoration #DorisDukeDishes #RoughPoinsettias #roughpoint or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the morning of my first day at NRF as the Laird Museum Studies Intern, I nearly missed my exit. When I pulled onto the I-95 South ramp from Providence, I realized that if I just kept driving, the interstate would take me all the way down the Eastern Seaboard to North Carolina. In just a couple days on the road, I could walk through Duke University’s campus, the magnificent Gothic wonderland that I call home; I could be reunited with my friends working in Durham for the summer; I could return to my regular campus job at the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Restless with first-day jitters and unsure what my summer in Newport might hold, I must admit I was tempted by the absurd idea to just keep driving.
Never fear—I made it to work on time. For a student interested in museum work and public history, a summer internship at a place like Rough Point is kind of the dream. It doesn’t hurt that Rough Point belonged to the Dukes, the family that gave both their name and their generous financial support to the university I love so dearly. My first week I was tasked with familiarizing myself with Newport history, NRF’s mission, and the incredible collections at all of our public properties. I took this instruction to mean marveling at the beautiful gardens, spectacular handcrafted furniture, and priceless artwork at both Whitehorne House and Rough Point Museums. It shouldn’t have surprised me that Doris Duke’s home is full to bursting with reminders of Duke University, but to my delight, I am discovering that these two places are connected in more than name.
The first of these reminders waits in Rough Point’s kitchen, tucked against the wall to the right as one comes through the doorway. It certainly was not the first thing I noticed—that was the view, a glorious vista of sun, sea, and stone. And compared to the large hearth and polished refrigerator, the two-foot-tall box covered in plain white porcelain tiles can seem unremarkable. But this rectangular chest is a cigar humidor, an appliance that holds the key to the fortune that helped create both Rough Point and Duke University.
James B. Duke transformed his father’s business into the supremely successful American Tobacco Company, which at one time produced 90% of the tobacco products sold in the United States. Mr. Duke had expanded the enterprise enough to withstand the Sherman Anti-Trust Act—Duke Energy is the most well-known example of this diversification—and he continued as one of the richest men in the world for the rest of his life. In 1924 he established the Duke Endowment, a $40 million trust fund created to support several Southern hospitals, churches, and schools, including Trinity College, which was promptly renamed in honor of the Duke family. $19 million was made immediately available for the construction of the university’s new campus, and at Mr. Duke’s death in 1925, he bestowed an additional $67 million to the Duke Endowment.
After his charitable donations, the bulk of the Duke fortune was left to his only child, Doris, who was just twelve years old. The “richest little girl in the world” grew up to continue her father’s legacy, both in philanthropy and collecting artwork to fill houses like Rough Point with priceless treasures. The seemingly-unremarkable cigar humidor, tucked into the corner of the kitchen, is a concrete reminder of the tobacco industry and fortune that made places like Rough Point and Duke University possible.
There are plenty of other connections to Duke, too many for a single blog post. There are names printed on signs at Rough Point that I recognize from my research into the construction of Duke University with the Franklin Humanities Institute last summer: Horace Trumbauer’s architectural firm designed both James and Nanaline Duke’s modifications to Rough Point and Duke University’s West Campus; Frederick Law Olmsted orchestrated the beautiful landscaping at Rough Point and his sons continued his legacy with their designs for Duke’s campus.,
The list continues: the magnificent 16th century tapestries hanging in Rough Point’s dining room used to hang in the reading room of the Duke University library. James B. Duke’s portrait displayed at the top of the main stairs at the museum is identical to his portrait hanging in the Gothic Reading room— and also matches the stance of his statue at the center of Duke’s Abele Quad, complete with cigar in hand. Upstairs, the exhibit “Beyond Fortune: The Life & Legacy of Doris Duke” features a photograph of the Duke Tobacco Company storefront that I recognize from the University Archives. No matter which room of the house or part of the gardens I may be strolling through, it seems that Duke University is never too far away.
Whenever I get on I-95 South, I still think about how the interstate could take me right back to Durham. Or, I could continue with my commute, cross the Claiborne Pell Bridge, and walk through the house where reminders of the school that I call home wait for me around every corner.
Gretchen Wright is the Emily A. Laird Museum Studies Intern for the summer, as well as a rising senior at Duke University studying English and Classical Studies. Come to Rough Point, Whitehorne House Museum, or Prescott Farm and ask her about Duke! She can’t wait to discuss Gilded Age mansions, historical preservation, and the highs and lows of college basketball with you.
 https://www.newportrestoration.org/room/kitchen/; http://newportalri.org/items/show/18388
 Patrick G. Porter, “Origins of the American Tobacco Company,” The Business History Review 43, no. 1 (1969): 1.
 William E. King, “Duke University: A Brief Narrative History,” Duke University Archives, accessed 11 June 2019, https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/uarchives/history/articles/narrative-history.
 “History of Rough Point,” Newport Restoration Foundation, accessed 11 June 2019, https://www.newportrestoration.org/roughpoint/history/.
 Mark Hough, “Duke Landscape Designed by Landscape Architecture Greats,” Duke Today, 25 April 2012, https://today.duke.edu/2012/04/landscapemonth.
 http://www.newportalri.org/items/show/18377; https://www.newportrestoration.org/room/dining-room/
Photos courtesy of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Historical Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
You asked and we’re answering! In our interactive talk back section of the Beyond Fortune: The Life & Legacy of Doris Duke exhibition at Rough Point, so many of you wanted to know more about Doris Duke’s camels.
Princess and Baby, Doris’s Bactrian camels, were born in 1987 and came to live with her in Newport in 1988. They enjoyed the summer months here on the back lawn of Rough Point and winter months in a heated stable at Duke Farms in New Jersey. Rumor has it that they also enjoyed eating graham crackers!
One of the most common questions we received was, “What happened to the camels?”
After Doris Duke passed away in 1993, Princess and Baby retired to Duke Farms. Princess eventually moved to Popcorn Park Zoo, an animal sanctuary in Forked River, New Jersey.
Another frequently asked question was, “What did Princess and Baby eat?”
Staff at Rough Point would be responsible for the care and feeding of the camels—Princess and Baby also took vitamins. Here is an inventory of supplies used by the camels in 1993:
75 bales of hay
45 bags of shavings
10 bags of omolene
Feed the camels two times a day 7am—7pm
1 scoop for Baby
1 scoop for Princess
Vitamin E – one ounce each in their grain, once a day
Have you seen the living statues of the camels on the front lawn? Both are a tribute to Princess and Baby. The frames of the camels are made of steel rebar and are covered with chicken wire. Zip ties hold sphagnum moss in place. The plants—mostly sedums and hens-and-chicks—are overwintered on the camels. In the spring, some new plants are added.
Come see Beyond Fortune to leave your own questions for us about Doris Duke and Rough Point, and don’t forget to take a #camelgram while you’re here!
As a scholar of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but one who has—until recently—had little opportunity to spend time in New England, I have developed a particular, though less than fully informed, vision of the wealthy women and men who called Newport their summer home and what their so-called summer cottages must have looked like. In my mind’s eye, the people of the past who called Bellevue Avenue their summer home have always appeared to me as a fairly uniform lot of stern looking men in dark suits and elegantly attired, but severely corseted, women with elaborate hairdos. When I have allowed myself the time to imagine the Bellevue Avenue homes, I have conjured up images of first floors filled with an endless series of grand rooms, each with sweeping views of the Atlantic and geometrically perfect parquet floors. Upstairs I imagined bedrooms covered in heavy rugs and carpeting and windows covered and framed in even heavier drapery. In short, I always envisioned the Bellevue Avenue Historic District and its former residents as archetypes of the Gilded Age and the Progressive era. That all changed the first time I saw Doris Duke’s bedroom.
If you’ve never seen the room before, please take a look at the images that accompany this blog. It is extraordinary. I first saw it in person during my final interview for the Director of Museums position at the NRF, and it quickly became my favorite room at Rough Pont (still is). Bright yellow walls (originally painted purple) serve as an exciting visual counterpoint to brilliant purple curtains. The room is filled with exquisite furniture upholstered in similarly vibrant purple fabrics and oftentimes faced with the most remarkably iridescent mother of pearl—a favorite decorative material of Doris Duke’s both here at Rough Point and in her Shangri La home in Hawaii. Despite the age of the pieces, most of which date to the nineteenth century, the visual impact of the room suggests a particular vision of modernity and fashion quite familiar to those of us born and raised in the second half of the twentieth-century, which is when Miss Duke decorated the room. Her choices of fabric and furniture created a visual aesthetic that linked the past and her present in surprising and visually stunning ways.
Doris Duke lived at Rough Point off and on until about a year before her death in 1993. At the Newport Restoration Foundation, we are deeply committed to sharing with visitors a sense of how Miss Duke lived at Rough Point over the last few decades of her life. Consequently, our collections, as well as the ways in which we exhibit them, often juxtapose the design and collecting practices of the Gilded Age and Progressive era (her parents’ generation) with the lived experience of an entirely different age. In some sense, Rough Point is the place where the 1880s and 90s meet the 1980s and 90s, and this mixing of centuries proves quite evident in Doris Duke’s Bedroom, which includes items like a delicate and deeply expressive Renoir painting of a young woman from 1875 and an AT&T Merlin telephone system (an iconic business phone system of the 1980s and a frequent feature in the rooms at Rough Point).
As someone who spends most of his working days at Rough Point, I think I understand what that reviewer was trying to say. Despite its grandeur and extraordinary beauty, there’s a sense of hominess at Rough Point, a wonderful, comfortable feeling that comes from the pairing of extraordinary works of European art and furniture from a more distant past with the mundane artifacts of day to day life in the mid to late 20th century. That duality, if you will, is directly attributable to Miss Duke and the life that she lived at Rough Point. You can find examples of this throughout the house, from the kitchen, which displays a lively pairing of late 20th century appliances with amenities from earlier in the century (including a sizeable, porcelain-tiled humidor built around 1900 to accommodate “Buck” Duke’s considerable cigar habit); to the pine room, which boasts an 18th century mirror (purchased in a Paris flea market!) and a Sony reel to reel tape recorder from the second half of the 20th century; and of course to Miss Duke’s bedroom, my favorite room at Rough Point.
Humidor, Wilke Manufacturing Company, Anderson, Indiana (American, 1897-1905). United States, ca. 1900. Porcelain tiles, nickel, wood, P2018.1.
I hope that you’ll find the time to visit Rough Point this season and see these rooms (and many others) for yourself. While I encourage everyone to view our website, which shares some images of each room on display, there really is no substitute for experiencing the home in person. Whether you visit the mansion physically or virtually, I encourage you to share your favorite room with us on social media by using the hashtag #myfavoriteroomatrp. I look forward to seeing your photographs and comments.
By Erik Greenberg, Ph.D., Director of Museums, Newport Restoration Foundation
Hearts may not have been one of Doris Duke’s favorite design motifs, but heart shapes can be found in several places throughout her Newport estate. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re taking a closer look at some of the hidden hearts in the fine and decorative arts collection at Rough Point.
A Desk to Adore
Desk and bookcase
Lima, Peru, 18th century
Spanish cedar, mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, ivory, rosewood
Doris Duke’s bedroom features her deep love for mother of pearl furniture. From the bed to the nightstands, to the seating and tables, the room is a pearlescent dream, with accents of purple, of course! However, the Peruvian mother of pearl desk is especially stunning. The desk features a scalloped pediment above a pair of cabinet doors enclosing shelves. The interior is veneered with stars and parquetry, and above a slant front enclosing, six short drawers are inlaid with ivory hearts. When opening the chest, these little hearts are quite the pleasant surprise!
A Heart of Silver
Heart Shaped Dish
Tiffany & Company (founded 1837), 20th century
Doris Duke was often the most generous to those closest to her. While we do not know the giver of this gift or the reason for such thanks, we can only guess that Miss Duke extended a kindness to “Paul” in a way that was worthy of such a beautiful thank you. The inscription says, “Doris, you are a truly great friend. Love, Paul”. A keepsake of Doris’, this Tiffany & Co. heart shaped dish is stored safely in the collection archives at Rough Point.
Are You Pin-terested?
Heart Shaped Pincushion
Tiffany & Company, ca. 1900
18-karat gold base
Another Tiffany & Co. piece from the collection, the base of this heart-shaped pincushion is made of 18-karat gold, while the cushion is made of silk with cotton interior stuffing. It is part of a 14-piece Tiffany dressing set that once belonged to Doris Duke’s mother, Nanaline. Currently it is located in Doris’ personal bathroom in her bedroom at Rough Point, along with rest of the dressing set.
A Dish to Die For
Heart Shaped Dish
Enamel and copper
Long live the king! This enamel dish with copper latticework is actually a souvenir from the 1902 coronation of British monarchs King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It is unknown where Doris Duke acquired it, but this elegant dish also sits in the bathroom of her bedroom at Rough Point.
Want to learn more about the collections at Rough Point? Visit newportrestoration.org/roughpoint/collection or find Newport Restoration Foundation at newportalri.org!
We are celebrating a family reunion of sorts at Rough Point this season. For the seventeen years that the mansion has been open as a museum, full-length portraits of Nanaline Duke and Doris Duke have hung at the top of the grand staircase leading to our second floor galleries and Doris Duke’s bedroom. Nowhere in the house could you see James Buchanan Duke, who bought the estate in 1922 from Princess Anastasia of Greece and Denmark (the former Mrs. William B. Leeds). Doris Duke might have displayed photographs of her father during her lifetime, but after her death in 1993, all personal documents and photographs were removed by her estate in preparation for the transfer of the mansion and its art and antique furnishings, in accordance with her will, to the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF).
There were painted portraits of James B. Duke elsewhere – at Duke University, the Duke Endowment, and the National Portrait Gallery, but not on view at Rough Point. That is, until now. A fourth painted portrait, by British artist John Da Costa (1867-1931), was given to NRF by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in 2004 (fig. 1), but darkened varnish and a sagging canvas support had made this portrait unexhibitable when it first came to us, and its original carved and gilded frame had suffered considerable damage over the years. In short, Mr. Duke needed some work, and with the focus of this year’s exhibition, Nature Tamed, on the landscape and gardens at Rough Point throughout its whole long history and under all owners (from Frederick Vanderbilt to NRF), the time seemed right to get Mr. Duke out of storage and onto a visible wall at Rough Point.
A little nip and tuck in the Berkshires
In late February, we sent the portrait and frame to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), which shares facilities with the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. At WACC, director Thomas Branchick cleaned the painting, stabilized its canvas support, addressed all other areas of damage, and gave the portrait a new layer of varnish to protect the painted surface. To restore the frame, furniture and frame conservator Hugh Glover replicated several missing pieces of ornate scrollwork and then painted the new surfaces to match the aged appearance of what remained of the original carved and gilded molding.
Mr. Duke returned from the Berkshires on April 4 (fig. 2), and you can now see him on the second floor landing in close proximity to the portraits of wife Nanaline (fig. 3), painted by Sir James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) around the time of her marriage to Mr. Duke in 1907, and daughter Doris at age ten or eleven (fig. 4), painted, like the portrait of her father, by the Englishman John Da Costa.
The lasting legacy of Washington Duke, and we’re not just talking about money . . .
In preparing to bring the family back together, we became aware of one of the other portraits of Mr. Duke by John Da Costa – a 1922 oil sketch (fig. 5), now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which appears to be a study from life for the Rough Point portrait. Between the 1922 and 1924 portraits, however, Da Costa changed the setting from an impressionistic exterior with blue sky to a non-descript, dark interior. Why the change? We suspect James B. Duke’s father, although dead for 19 years at that point, might still have had something to do with it.
Our portrait is a near identical twin to the portrait of James B. Duke that now hangs in the Gothic Reading Room of the Duke University Libraries (fig. 6). Adjacent to this “twin” is a posthumous portrait of Washington Duke (1820-1905) in the same dimensions and with a similarly dark interior background and red, upholstered chair (fig. 7). Both of the Duke University portraits date to 1924, as does the Rough Point portrait, and all were likely commissioned to commemorate the $40 million donation made by James B. Duke to the Duke Endowment that same year. The Duke Endowment supported several North Carolina colleges, including Trinity College in Durham, which would later be renamed Duke University in honor of Washington Duke’s legacy of giving to the college.
As a model for the posthumous portrait of Washington Duke, Da Costa used a 1904 portrait by Abraham Edmonds (Fig. 8; also now in the Rough Point collection), in which the senior Duke is similarly posed in a dark interior. For visual consistency, it seems that Da Costa simply adapted the Edmonds composition and setting for his portraits of both father and son destined for Duke University, and by extension to the version of the James B. Duke portrait intended for the family. Thus, we have Washington Duke and Abraham Edmonds, both long gone in 1924, to thank for the somber, dark interior.
Not all frames are created equal
There were other benefits to bringing James B. Duke back into the public view. When conservators had a close look at the back of Mr. Duke’s frame they found a stamped maker’s mark: “M. Grieve Co., Hand Carved, New York & London” (fig. 9). Maurice Grieve (fig. 10) relocated his family’s two-century old wood carving business from Belgium to New York in 1906 and closed the shop upon retirement in 1955. His carved and gilded frames represented the pinnacle of the craft and were highly sought after by dealers, collectors, and institutions in the first half of the twentieth century. Most famously, Grieve made the frame for Gainsborough’s Blue Boy after its controversial sale to the American industrialist Henry Huntington in 1921.
Only a few years after making the Blue Boy frame, Grieve was commissioned to carve the frame for John Da Costa’s portrait of James B. Duke, now reunited with the other two family portraits at Rough Point (fig. 11). What young Doris Duke thought of all of this is still a mystery. From the expression captured by John Da Costa (see fig. 4), one might guess there were places she would rather have been than in the artist’s studio.
By Margot Nishimura, Deputy Director for Collections, Programming, and Public Engagement